I could just leave it at the headline with this one but that doesn’t make much of a blog post… There are a couple of aspects I want to explore here.
The first part is exactly what it says on the tin. Lots of people have said things along the lines of ‘be nice to people who can’t help you’ or ‘you can judge a person by how they treat waiting staff’ etc. The point is reasonably obvious. If you only do kind things because of what you will receive in return, it pretty much negates the original kindness. Why? I’m not actually sure. I’m a big fan of extrapolation. If this is bad, how bad is it if we go all the way and how good is it if we go the other way? I find it a good way to see if the kernel of an idea is good or bad. So, if someone is rude to staff or dismissive of someone who requires help but can’t help in return, how bad can those traits get if left unchecked? And conversely if someone is really kind to strangers, how deep does that kindness run? Extrapolate out and see what happens.
The second part of this is a bit of a story, care of my mum. Although it is similar to the above, it has a more personal and practical application, I think.
When I was about 9, a neighbour of ours was pregnant. Late one night an ambulance arrived at the house, blue lights flashing. Knowing that they had a young son, my mum went over to see if we could look after him while they addressed whatever problem had arisen. On arriving at the house, our neighbour started to explain what the matter was but my mother cut her off and said “It’s okay, I don’t need to know.” Not that she didn’t care but that she didn’t need to know and tacitly that she was there to help no matter what the gossip might be, because that wasn’t her concern, both literally and metaphorically. I have remembered that episode ever since. If someone needs help, I try to offer assistance with no strings attached. Sure, sometimes better assistance can be offered if one knows the why but often it is simply a sympathetic ear or a practical leaning-in to a problem that is required and no deep moment of mutual trust is required (although perversely that probably happens anyway).
So, in the not-quite words of JFK, “Ask not what your fellow man can do for you but what you can do for your fellow man.”